Baby, It’s Damp Out There

Our family Christmas can happen either side of the 25th by as much as 45 days. Spread out across the country as we are, with a sister or a brother-in-law or an aged aunt in every province, we use Facebook to track the movements of relatives in space and time. Then, when we sense an alignment of the stars, we book a hall at the mid-point.

Sometimes we make do with a mini-reunion, such as the one that occurred last month in Manitoba. My wife s brothers invited me to join them for their annual duck hunt in a remote marsh in Lake Winnipeg. They know I m ho-hum about duck hunting but they really like my old dog, Snifferbones, who happens to be a real keener in the marsh. He was a rescue pup, a Labradoodle who lived in a city basement for two years before he was dumped off on us. There must have been quite a library in that basement, because the dog knows more about ducks than Jack London.

There is a certain irony involved here. Hughie, Dewey and Louie farm in three separate time zones, yet each of them at different times experienced such appalling wet weather that this trip had to be paid for by the crop insurance corporation. You d think the guys would choose someplace warm and dry for their get-together, like perhaps the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. But no, for three days we shivered in a rowboat bobbing in four feet of frigid green water on Lake Winnipeg, reflecting on one of the strangest crop years we had ever seen. The most cheerful one in the group was Snifferbones, because it s been a good year for ducks, if no one else, and they passed over us in Biblical abundance.

It was so wet, we had ducks in the driveway in June, recalled Dewey, who cash crops near Brandon. So we took the advice of our accountant/therapist and just packed up and took a drive west, picked up Hughie in Weyburn and went for a holiday in Glacier Park in the campervan. First time I ve taken that kind of time off since high school.

Hughie nodded. The old guys used to say that in a dry year you worry to death but in a wet year you starve to death. We planted one field twice and we watched it all float down the roadside twice.

Louie, from Ontario, shrugged. I ve never planted corn as late as we did this year June 15th. I never thought it would ripen. But I went out in October to combine and after three passes I was averaging 165 bushels& best ever where I am. Then on the fourth pass, the heavens opened and I haven t been back in the field since. Looks like another spring harvest.

What are you going to do? There was a rustle of many wings above and Snifferbones woofed at us to be quiet. The sun suddenly broke out over the rushes, turning the marsh to a bright mirror as 50 mallards and blue-wings circled, fluttered down and splashed into the surface right in front of us. It was just like one of those paintings on an easel at a Ducks Unlimited auction. Nobody in the blind spoke for a minute.

Pretty, said Hughie finally.

I ve got my limit for the day, said Dewey. Louie said, Me, too, and fumbled in his coat for his camera.

Sheesh! said Snifferbones flopping his ears in frustration.

In some ways the summer turned out okay, said Hughie, After the Glacier trip we went to Vancouver to visit my daughter for a couple of weeks and got to know her kids a lot better.

Yeah, said Dewey. We joined a bicycle group and Sarah lost about 20 pounds. She looks great.

My doctor says my blood pressure is way down, said Louie. He asked me if I was exercising and I said nope, I just took the Weather Channel off my satellite system. And I spent a lot of time this summer straightening up the place for Kitty s wedding next spring.

When we parted, we agreed it had been a great Christmas and made plans to do it again next year. Louie and I yakked all the way home to Ontario and had a great visit. Snifferbones thought it was good, too. He was full of duck stroganoff and Advil and passed out in the back seat.

Wingfield s World, the complete collection of Dan Needles Letters from Wingfield Farm was published this fall By Random House.

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